We don’t want to be free. Neo is our enemy, not our savior.
Most of us have seen The Matrix, or are at least familiar with the story. Neo is our hero in the movie, a virtual god in training, selflessly seeking to destroy the Matrix and free the enslaved humans therein.
Yet, curiously, one of the freed humans desires to get back into the Matrix. “Ignorance is bliss,” proclaims Cypher. Tired of the grit of the real world, he wants to enjoy his virtual steak in a comfortable booth in a nice restaurant in oblivion. Obviously the bad guy, he makes a deal with the Agents and betrays Neo and the crew.
Pointless to ask which character do you identify with more?
The ironic truth is that we humans are willingly inserting ourselves into the Matrix. We don’t need to wait for the Machines to come get us. We’re building them and strapping them on, plugging them in, and embedding ourselves within them.
Think of these trends:
- iPods – It seems like there are nearly as many pairs of white ear buds as humans. It is easier than ever to block out the deafening silence with music, podcasts, and tiny videos for the attention-challenged masses. Do I have an iPod that I listen to while cooking, cleaning, building Legos, driving, falling asleep? You betcha.
- World of Warcraft, Second Life, other MMORPGS – I think the resemblance of these to the Matrix is actually more superficial than anything else. They are obvious fantasy playgrounds. And yet…we read about WoW weddings, offline guilds, and more. Companies have virtual presences in Second Life. Real estate is bought and sold. Compare the experience of Mildred in Fahrenheit 451 and her 3-walled interactive-TV enclosure. Is that some way between virtual realities and alternate, livable realities? Does your Second Life avatar look just like you? Why not?
- 24-hour news – It’s cliché to rail against the 24-hour media, and I don’t want to do that specifically. But it is another aspect of being “plugged in” to the world. We always have to know what’s going on everywhere (ignoring for the moment that most TV news is now tabloid and worthless).
- Facebook, mySpace, etc. – These online communities have replaced many of the traditional face-to-face interactions we partake in. We count our friends, visit their pages, listen to their music, understand and comment on their thoughts, sometimes without ever actually meeting.
- Twitter – is there anything more Borg-like than being continually updated with the status of hundreds of other individuals? Once we harness this power we, in effect, become individual cogs in a great machine.
- Rise of Video over Literature – Books are still incredibly popular and probably will be forever, but the potential exists for books to be superceded by video-on-demand. We’ve always had a “Matrix” in our minds–a place to escape to, interpreting the words on the page however we like. With video, however, the vision is placed upon us and we become part of it, rather than it becoming part of us.
- Simplifying life by placing organization burdens on computers – PDAs, Getting Things Done, Outlook. Unburdening our crowded minds, allowing the computer to track our lives for us, freeing us for more important pursuits. Rather than mindless tasks that we all must do, we can focus our energy on our creativity.
What happens to the human race as our reality is supplemented so heavily by virtual realities, by computers, by constant flows of information, and yet coincidentally we have so many automated processes to filter and store that information for when we need it. Do we become hyper-productive and fantastically creative? Do we enjoy the fruits of nearly infinite resources like learning and exploration for its own sake? Or do we become lazy and unproductive, mere taskmasters over the computers which run our lives, stuck in fantasy worlds more exciting than our own?
It’s not that any of these things are bad. What is evident now is that the Matrix itself isn’t bad. Neo is the Luddite trying to hold us back, pull us out of the hyper-connected, multiplexed virtual realities of the 21st century into the grim shadows of “real” life. Real life–that which deals pain equally with joy, sadness with happiness, tough breaks with outstanding successes, where you’re paid to work, not play, not be a hero.
Of course, the Matrix portrays a world equivalent to our own, with the real world being brutally harsh for human existence. But the difference is only in degree. Either way, we’re happier being in a virtual world that is somehow more attractive than the one we physically exist in.
Neo must die. Leave us alone to enjoy our fantasies, our electronically-fueled dalliances in worlds unknown.